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The final stretch: The chaotic super PACs supporting Donald Trump

Tuesday, November 1, 2016 7:02
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(Before It's News)

By The Sunlight Foundation

Donald Trump standing at a podium speaking to a the crowd.
Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign rally in Arizona. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

During the primaries, Donald Trump denounced super PACs and boasted that he was self-funding his presidential run. When a super PAC popped up under the “Make America Great Again” moniker, Washington Post reporters started questioning those statements. Trump reacted by shutting down the effort, which had already compiled $1.7 million.

But, as we outlined in August, several pro-Trump super PACs have been spending this year without admonishment from their candidate. Since we last wrote about them these groups have spent millions on Trump’s behalf — though, still tens of millions less than groups supporting Clinton. Here’s where those groups stand less than two weeks before the general election.

Great America PAC

  • Total receipts: $16,295,788
  • Total spending: $14,206,738
  • Total independent expenditures: $14,417,281

Last time we wrote about it, Great America PAC was the biggest super PAC supporting Trump; it’s now been eclipsed by Rebuilding America Now. It’s still raising significant amounts, having raised more than $14 million, with several large donations from LLCs, groups that don’t disclose their donors.

It received $500,000 in September from Auburn Manor Holding Corporation, owned by Martin Harmon, who personally gave the super PAC another $200,000 from his own pocket. (Harmon also gave the maximum donation to the Hillary Clinton campaign, and gave to Cruz, Carson, Kasich and Fiorina’s campaigns too.) Great America PAC has spent $14 million on Trump’s behalf; last time, we noted that many of its ads actually were focused on raising more money for the super PAC itself. One of its most recent expenditures was $385,884 for a “national GOTV bus tour.” If you see the Great America PAC bus, send us a photo!

Just this week, the Telegraph reported that Great America PAC had illegally solicited foreign donations in exchange for “influence” with Trump. Undercover reporters posed as consultants, secretly recording Jesse Benton telling them to funnel donations through dark money channels, including his own company and two 501(c)(4) nonprofits. Benton claimed to have left the group in May but told the reporters that he was still a “consultant” with them. The Telegraph also reported that he said he had “previously helped U.S. donors conceal donations.” The Campaign Legal Center has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission about this, and we are awaiting action from the agency on this matter.

Rebuilding America Now

  • Total receipts: $20,335,192
  • Total spent: $19,177,512
  • Total independent expenditures: $16,941,538

When we last wrote about this group in August, it had only raised $2.1 million. Its last quarterly FEC report, covering July-September, revealed a huge increase in funding and activity: Rebuilding America Now had raised $17.9 million, and spent $15 million. Former Senate candidate and WWE executive Linda McMahon donated $6 million, despite calling Trump’s comments on women “deplorable” during the Republican primary. In September, she told the AP that Trump was “an incredibly loyal, loyal friend.” Stephen Feinberg, a billionaire hedge-fund manager who is on Trump’s economic advisory team, donated $500,000. Feinberg wouldn’t have been allowed to donate to Trump’s campaign itself because he runs a company that manages Indiana’s pension fund, and with Mike Pence on the ticket, he would have run afoul of pay-to-play laws that forbid donations to governors from firms that manage their state’s pension funds, but allow donations to their super PACs.

Rebuilding America Now has made several multi-million dollar ad buys, mostly attacking Clinton rather than supporting Trump. Its media firms include Multi Media Services, based in Alexandria, Va., and Cold Harbor Films, which has previously produced ads for Coca Cola and United Airlines. The group has spent almost $13 million opposing Clinton and almost $5 million supporting Trump.

Committee to Restore America’s Greatness

  • Total receipts: $585,318
  • Total spending: $554,456
  • Total independent expenditures: $16,000

This super PAC is significant not because of the amount it’s spent – it’s made just $16,000 in independent expenditures, and has spent only $533,179 overall – but because of who runs it. The Committee to Restore America’s Greatness is run by Roger Stone, a longtime Trump ally and one-time adviser to Richard Nixon, whose face is tattooed on Stone’s back. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski called the super PAC a “big-league scam.” Most of its spending has been on consulting and legal fees, mostly to Jensen & Associates, a law firm in Costa Mesa, Calif.

American Horizons

  • Total receipts: $1,111,668
  • Total spent: $1,097,975
  • Total independent expenditures: $12,000

When we last wrote about the Trump super PACs, we described American Horizons as not a big player, having spent nothing on Trump’s behalf, and detailed how its founder, Ian Hawes, argued that the PAC was absolutely not a “scam.” Since then, new FEC filings have done nothing to support his case. American Horizons raised more than a million dollars, largely through tricking supporters into thinking the money would be spent to elect Trump. It spent that money on Facebook ads and, mostly, on “consulting” and “media” payments to Hawes’ own company, CartSoft LLC. The group has made just one independent expenditure, reporting it spent $12,000 on online voter contact; the payee for that expenditure was CartSoft, LLC. Its FEC filings also reveal a number of contribution refunds, several of which came in the days after a Politico story on the PAC reportedly being a scam.

While we’re discussing ostensibly pro-Trump but actually extremely shady PACs, we should mention Liberty Action Group. This group has raised $2,612,412 but made no independent expenditures on Trump’s behalf. It ran into trouble with the FEC for filing expenditure reports that were missing key information, like payee’s addresses or names, as well as listing several payments to a mysterious “Media Consultant.” The last FEC filing revealed Liberty Action had spent $834,500 on advertising with SmartCall Media, and $452,750 on consulting with InfoCision Management Corporation, a telemarketing firm. $48,350 went to Josiah Cammer, one of the group’s spending directors, according to BuzzFeed. Another individual, Matt Tunstall, received $329,914 from the PAC. His address is listed as “1201 Orange Street, Delaware,” the same address as Supreme Dream Media, which received another $109,118 from the group. 1201 Orange Street is the address of the company that incorporated Supreme Dream Media — a company that incorporates companies anonymously in Delaware.

The rest

  • USA Business Freedom PAC: This group hasn’t raised any money since we last wrote about it, and has made only three independent expenditures since then, all for candidates other than Trump: Florida congressional candidate Neal Dunn and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
  • Make America Number 1: It used to be Keep the Promise I, one of the many super PACs supporting Ted Cruz in the GOP primary. In July, the organization changed its name to Make America Number 1 and began spending against Clinton. Since then, it’s doled out $2,714,167 on anti-Clinton media, but made no pro-Trump expenditures. Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who spoke at the Republican National Convention and funded the lawsuit that bankrupted Gawker, has reportedly donated $1 million to the group.
  • Future in America PAC: This group is somewhat low profile, given that it’s raised more than $900,000, spent $584,930 on pro-Trump expenditures, and spent another $435,819 on ads opposing Clinton. The group once released an ad featuring James Dobson, a right-wing Christian evangelist; all of its ads have run on social media and the internet.
  • Rally PAC: Entirely funded by Andrew Daniel Beal of Beal Bank, Rally PAC has raised $100,100 and spent $99,934 on social media ads supporting Trump. Beal is an adviser to Trump’s campaign.
  • Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund: While this organization supports a number of candidates, it has spent $238,424 supporting Trump and $247,721 opposing Clinton.

Although they aren’t super PACs, we should also mention the National Rifle Association’s outside spending. The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund and the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action have spent $1.8 million and $8.6 million on independent expenditures supporting Trump, respectively. The groups have also spent $7.1 million and $11.2 million opposing Clinton, respectively.

Wondering how all this pro-Trump spending compares to Clinton’s super PACs? Read our companion post to find out.

The Sunlight Foundation is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.

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